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Justice Tom Parker’s free speech suit continues

Brandon Moseley

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By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter

Friday, September 1, 2017 an Alabama Federal District Court rejected a motion to dismiss a lawsuit brought by Alabama Supreme Court Associate Justice, Tom Parker (R). Justice Parker is alleging that a complaint brought against him by the Montgomery based Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) to the Judicial Inquiry Commission (JIC) violated his free speech rights. The JIC and former Alabama Attorney General, Luther Strange (R) filed motions to dismiss Justice Parker’s suit, but the court rejected the motions to dismiss.   Justice Parker has stated a claim that the Alabama Canons of Judicial Ethics violate his First Amendment right to free speech.

Founder and Chairman of Liberty Counsel Mat Staver said, “We are pleased that Justice Parker’s case will now move forward on the merits of his First Amendment challenge. The judicial canon that prohibits judges from commenting on any case anywhere in the country is patently unconstitutional. Every judge who teaches law school students would be silenced by this broad restriction on speech. It’s also a flagrant violation of the free speech rights of Justice Parker. He is a current candidate for Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court and this judicial canon stands as an unconstitutional impediment to actively discussing matters of grave public concern to Alabama voters. Justice Parker is entitled to speak his mind on the current state of the judicial branch during his candidacy, and Liberty Counsel will continue to defend him until he is no longer chilled in his First Amendment rights.”

Justice Tom Parker is challenging the constitutionality of several speech restrictive provisions of the Alabama Canons of Judicial Ethics. Parker claims that these provisions were being used by the SPLC to silence his protected speech.

The court initially dismissed Justice Parker’s lawsuit on the grounds that the JIC’s pending investigation required federal courts to abstain from the matter. However, while Parker’s appeal was pending, the JIC dismissed the SPLC’s complaint.  Liberty Counsel then filed a motion to have the case returned to the lower court to address the merits of the legal challenge, and the Court of Appeals unanimously agreed with Liberty Counsel.  On Thursday, the federal district court denied the motions to dismiss filed by the JIC and the attorney general, finding that the free speech claims could proceed, but the due process claim had been denied in another case by the Court of Appeals.

Justice Parker is challenging a judicial canon that prohibits a judge from commenting on any case pending anywhere in the country even though the judge is not presiding over the case. Many years ago, the American Bar Association took the position that such a restriction is unconstitutional and violates the First Amendment. Instead of revising the canon, Alabama continues to retain the archaic canon, which Parker deems unconstitutional.

Justice Parker has publicly announced that he will run for Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court challenging Lyn Stuart (R) who was appointed chief justice by Governor Kay Ivey earlier this year. Former Chief Justice Roy Moore (R) retired to run for U.S. Senate. Moore had been suspended for the remainder of his term after the JIC brought charges against him for violating the State’s Code of Judicial Canon.

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Several State Legislators introduced Legislation in the last Session to take judicial punishment away from the JIC, which is largely composed of politically connected appointed attorneys who serve on a part-time basis.

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Moore is now in the Republican runoff for U.S. Senate against former AG Luther Strange, who was appointed to the Senate by former Gov. Robert Bentley (R) when Jeff Sessions (R) was appointed U.S. Attorney General. The runoff will be Sep. 26. The winner will face Birmingham Attorney Doug Jones (D) in the Dec. 12, 2017, Special General Election.

Liberty Counsel is an international nonprofit, litigation, education and policy organization dedicated to advancing religious freedom, the sanctity of life and the family since 1989. It provides pro bono assistance and representation on these and related topics. Liberty Counsel and the SPLC have often found each other on the opposite sides of litigation.

The Republican primary for Chief Justice will be June 5, 2018.

 

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